Kevin Regan had never seen anything like it.
“Every time a train comes in from Grand Central, it’s unbelievable,” said Regan, the Amtrak manager at New Haven’s Union Station. “I saw one couple — they found each other and just started crying, before they could even get to each other through the crowd.”
For most of the day, Metro-North trains departing from Grand Central Terminal were the only means of transportation out of chaotic, rubble-filled New York. Many New Yorkers were rushing on board, fearing more attacks.
“As soon as they fill them up, they ship them out,” Regan said.
About every 40 minutes, they arrived in New Haven.
Among those fleeing New York was Doug Falkenberg, who witnessed the first crash from the window of his apartment across from the World Trade Center. Falkenberg first thought that a plane had gone down into the Hudson River, but then saw the tower in flames from his window.
“I ran out of the apartment to get my sons out of school. On the way there, I watched the plane hit the second tower,” Falkenberg said at Union Station. “I figured I had just better get out.”
Falkenberg and his family managed to get to Grand Central and found the train to New Haven.
Lucius Bloodworth was trying to get into a meeting at the Knights of Columbus building in New Haven when he was told that it had been cancelled and why. He sat stunned in the station 20 minutes later, trying find a way home to Bridgeport.
“This is all amazing to me — all the eyes — people crying, people running,” Bloodworth said.
Aubert Conway, 79, passed the time at Union Station yesterday, watching the chaos. The scene reminded him of the scene in New Haven in 1941 as the city learned about the Pearl Harbor bombings.
“Everyone went crazy — you couldn’t walk the streets,” Conway said. “I never forgot it. But that was different from this. Then, we knew who was behind it.”
Outside the station’s entrance, a few chartered buses lined up at the curb to ferry marooned workers home to destinations along Shore Line East commuter railroad’s route.
To ensure the security of those inside, station officials towed cars early in the morning from the front of Union Station and maintained a plastic barricade all day to keep cars away.
A few blocks from the train station, downtown was strangely empty. Mounted New Haven police guarded the entrance to the empty federal courthouse and post office building.
Security guards inside refused to answer questions.
In front of City Hall, a few quiet clusters of workers awaited rides out of New Haven. Many tenants of the 27-story Connecticut Financial Center on Church Street had evacuated their employees by 11:30. Hot dog vendors, normally stationed at the corner of College and Elm, moved their stands to take advantage of the unexpected business.
The few New Haveners on the streets expressed shock and dawning anger.
George Laudano of West Haven had cycled to the federal building to pick up his Social Security check, only to be turned away at the door.
“If we don’t go to war against the [terrorists] and the countries that back them, we’re the biggest fools in the world,” he said.